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JM | Nov 24, 2020

Kamala needs to do right by her father

/ Our Today

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Harris, the first black, South-Asian and female vice president in American history. (Photo: Daily Sabah)

By Fernando Davis

A lot is being made of Kamala Harris’ persistence in reducing her father to a mere footnote in her life… notably that glaring omission of his name… in what was the biggest speech of her life earlier this month.

Before penning this, I did a little research to see if there is something, we all have been missing and below is what I uncovered.

In ‘The Truths We Hold’, her 2018 memoir, Kamala Harris said this about her parents: “Had they been a little older, a little more emotionally mature, maybe the marriage could have survived. But they were so young. My father was my mother’s first boyfriend.”

The divorce was bitter, according to VP Elect Harris. She also recalled inviting both her parents to her high school graduation, “even though I knew they wouldn’t speak to each other,” and initially fearing that her mother would not show up. (She did, in a “very bright red dress and heels,” Kamala Harris wrote).

Kamala Harris’ parents Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris.

Donald Harris, in his 2018 essay, entitled ‘Reflections of a Jamaican Father’, said his early, close contact with his daughters “came to an abrupt halt” after a contentious custody battle. He said the divorce settlement had been based on a false interpretation by the State of California that fathers cannot handle parenting. Nevertheless “I persisted, never giving up on my love for my children or reneging on my responsibilities as their father”.

Divorce can be psychologically scarring on children and some do favour one parent over the other. In this case Kamala and her sister, Maya, they were raised by their mother who they undoubtedly formed a closer bond with. Years later, and with the success she has enjoyed, Kamala can be forgiven for focusing on her mother whom she closely observed.

Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. (Photo: Drew Angerer for TIME Magazine)



With her father now 82, and herself now a middle-aged woman, Kamala must reach out to bridge the gap, heal rifts while she has the chance. She has a family of her own and must be aware of the effects of familial harmony.

Both her mother Shyamala and her father Donald showed they were humanitarians, committed to the civil rights movement and the empowerment of people. They were bright, accomplished, scholastic and that must have all rubbed off on Kamala who has done them both proud.

At the Democratic National Convention this summer, Kamala said: “At the University of California Berkeley my mother met my father Donald Harris who came from Jamaica to study economics. They fell in love in that most American way, while marching together for justice during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In the streets of Oakland and Berkeley. I got a stroller’s eye view of the people getting into what the great John Lewis called ‘good trouble’.”

Donald Harris with his infant child, Kamala, who has grown up to become Vice President-elect of the United States.



Her father doesn’t appear to be the kind of man who abrogates his responsibilities as a parent. It must have hurt him deeply to say goodbye to his girls and play no major role for years in shaping who they were to become.

He has lived to see his elder daughter become the attorney general of California and the first female and woman of colour vice president of the United States. That must give him joy. If he reaches out to Kamala, she must forgive and make amends. Her father, whom she acknowledges played an integral role on her journey must hear this directly from her. Tell him sincerely and heartfeltly.

If in her own words she can only blame the absenteeism on her parents’ bitter divorce, then an acknowledgement of his existence could not have been all that difficult. After all, if Biden wasn’t a bigger man and was what we here in Jamaica would call “carrying feelings”, then she would not be in the position she is in today.

My take: If VP Elect Harris is going to take a cue from her boss… President-elect Joe Biden… then she has to be VP for all Americans… including her own father.

If in her own words she can only blame the absenteeism on her parents’ bitter divorce, then an acknowledgement of his existence could not have been all that difficult. After all, if Biden wasn’t a bigger man and was what we here in Jamaica would call “carrying feelings”, then she would not be in the position she is in today.

TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION

We can all remember her surprise if not jaw-dropping attack on him in that first primary debate – all but calling him a racist (she denied that that was her intention).

Kamala Harris speaking with radio host Charlamagne The God on the Breakfast Club. (Photo: The Breakfast Club)

And even though it drew the ire of many Biden supporters, including his wife Jill, Joe Biden still selected her as his running mate. Not sure if there is anything wrong with a little truth and reconciliation.

Children know the sting of a good tongue lashing from a parent. In the end it is probably better to say ‘Sorry Mummy or Daddy’, mean it and move on.



When Kamala told the radio host Charlamagne the God jokingly that she was not against legalising pot and had smoked it in college saying, “Half my family is from Jamaica. Are you kidding me?”, it was a moment of levity, a light-hearted quip probably meant to reach across the generation gap and show that she could be cool. Nevertheless, the PC brigade and stuffed shirts admonished her.

Her father should have been smarter, seeing it for what it was, or, if he didn’t approve, tell her so privately and not given her a spanking in front of the entire world.

In stern tones he wrote: “My dear departed grandmothers, as well as my deceased parents, must be turning in their grave right now to see their family’s name, reputation and proud Jamaican identity being connected, in any way, jokingly or not, with the fraudulent stereotype of a pot-smoking joy seeker and in the pursuit of identity politics.”

Ouch! That couldn’t have gone down well with Kamala, bringing back all the resentment and issues that for years caused alienation between father and daughter. Here, Donald needed a good editor and should not have gone unfiltered – after all, Kamala had a lot on the line and she didn’t need to be castigated by her Dad at that time.

That being said, she must put it aside and embrace her father, honour and cherish  him; let him know so.

Kamala Harris with her daughter Meena, and Jamaican father Professor Donald Harris.
In the words of Mike and The Mechanics in ‘The Living Years’:
Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door
I know that I'm a prisoner
To all my Father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I'm afraid that's all we've got
You say you just don't see it
He says it's perfect sense
You just can't get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence
Say it loud (say it loud), say it clear (oh say it clear)
You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late (it's too late) when we die (oh when we die)
To admit we don't see eye to eye
So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It's the bitterness that lasts
So don't yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don't give up, and don't give in
You may just be okay
So say it loud, say it clear (oh say it clear)
You can listen as well as you hear
Because it's too late, it's too late (it's too late) when we die (oh when we die)
To admit we don't see eye to eye

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